Sermon by the Rev. Tom Hughes
Sermon, Proper 28, Year C 2022
Luke 21:5-19, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Psalm 98; Malachi 4:1-2a
Scripture describes the Day of the Lord as a cosmic, universal event, a time of terror, destruction, wars, and natural disasters that will take place before God’s reign on earth is fully realized.
This understanding of The Day of the Lord also informs our understanding of the second coming of Christ, when Jesus will return in glory, vanquishing evil and bringing the fullness of God’s love, peace and rule to this earth.
In the weeks before Advent, and during Advent itself, the lectionary presents us with various Day of the Lord passages that serve as signs of Jesus’ second coming on this earth.
For after all, in the season of Advent, we are waiting and preparing not only for the birth of Jesus, God coming into the world as one of us, to live and die as one of us, but we are also waiting and preparing for Jesus to return in glory and for God’s reign of peace on this earth to at last become a reality.
The Day of the Lord is a big theological idea that is interesting, but we’ve been waiting now for over 2000 years and Jesus has still not returned.
So I’m left to wonder. Why continue to give so much attention to this concept?
At least this idea of The Day of the Lord and the return of Jesus gives us hope that at some point, God will carry out God’s ultimate plan for all of creation, and despite the current evidence to the contrary, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well, as St Julian of Norwich says.
But for me, here’s the real down to earth value of the Day of the Lord.
The Day of the Lord helps us to make sense of difficult times in our own lives, those times when when the world turns upside down, and life as we knew it is gone, our emotional landscapes are transformed and unrecognizable, we are disoriented, and can’t imagine how we’ll manage.
The Covid pandemic had this feel to it for many people, especially early on, when the whole world shut down and no one could really predict what would happen next.
The death of a beloved person in our lives can have this sort of impact.
Or an unexpected incurable illness, or a divorce, and the list goes on.
These times in our lives can be horrible and hopeless. The feeling of isolation, betrayal, grief, and disorientation can turn the present into a desert of depression. These times in our lives can bring debilitating anger and bitterness. These times can bring a vast emptiness in which not even God seems to be present.
Jesus says right up front in today’s gospel that these things are bound to happen, when our lives get turned upside down, when the things we thought were indestructible in our lives get torn apart, like the temple in Jerusalem, and there’s no way to build back what is gone.
But when we think of all these unwelcome changes as The Day of the Lord, then we can have hope!
And here’s why.
The Day of the Lord is a necessary, intermediate step from things as they were to what will be, a time when God’s power and love will transform everything from “death to life, from falsehood to truth, from despair to hope, from fear to trust, from hate to love, from war to peace,” as the World Peace prayer in The New Zealand Prayer Book reads.
That’s what the Day of the Lord is all about—Transformation! Not just change for change’s sake, but transformation with purpose, transformation that leads to new life.
Do these times in our lives wound and scar us? Of course they do! Remember the story of Jacob wrestling with God way back in Genesis? After a night of struggle, daylight comes , the “man” wrestling with Jacob sees that he cannot be defeated. He touches Jacob hip socket, wounding Jacob, and then asks to be released. Jacob asks for a blessing first. When the two part ways, Jacob, who has received a new name, Israel, goes limping off into the sunrise toward his reckoning with his brother Esau. He has been scarred, changed and transformed by the time of wrestling and reckoning with God.
And then there’s Jesus. God resurrected Jesus after Jesus died that horrific death on the cross, and we celebrate the resurrection on Easter Day and every time we gather round God’s table. But we must never forget that Jesus himself, resurrected from the dead, was marked forever by The Day of the Lord that he experienced on the cross. To prove to the disciples that he was no ghost when he appeared to them, he showed them his hands and his side. Even in his resurrected body, he bore the scars of his death on the cross.
How helpful this is to us, when we can go through the hard times in our lives knowing that on the other side of the struggle, the side in which life, truth, hope, trust, love and peace will reign, we will still carry our scars. They mark us as Christ’s own forever.
Our scars become the markers that remind us of God’s power at work, the healing, loving power that is healing us and bringing us out of death into life, an ongoing process of love that God carries out in our lives.
Grief, that deep sorrow over what we have lost and will never have back in the form we have known, can feel like the Day of the Lord I will never forget how Eunice cried so much yesterday at Roger’s funeral. But what an example Eunice sets for us—like Jacob wrestling, like Jesus dying, Eunice just let herself be torn apart by her grief. But Eunice could release herself into that grief because Eunice knows that Roger’s loss, which will mark her forever, is part of the transformation in which God carried Roger and will carry us all out of death into new life.
The Day of the Lord reminds us that we must go through death to get to the life God has for us on the other side of death.
All around us in the natural world, we see God’s creation, when we allow it to exist as God intended from the beginning, we see The Day of the Lord coming and going, leaving scars, bringing transformation.
Something as commonplace as seeing a fallen tree in a walk through the woods—a tree that has died, and yet is bringing forth new life, helps us to think about transformation in our own lives. I have seen tiny new trees growing out of rotting tree stumps. And have you ever looked closely at a fallen log? That log is covered with new life. As funguses transform the log back into earth, mosses grow, creatures feed and find homes, and someday, although the log itself will be gone, new life has come in its place. Nature is in a constant cycle of life, then death, then transformation into new life. Knowing that this transformation out of death into life is real is why even at the grave we can make our song—“Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!”
So today’s passages are realistic. Jesus does not mince words. Hard times are ahead. Destruction is inevitable and unavoidable. The temple will be gone, natural disasters will take place, and the followers of Jesus will face persecution, betrayal and death.
And yet, God will bring new life even out of death—and by their endurance, Jesus tells his followers, they will gain their souls.
“So do not be led astray, do not be terrified but endure,” Jesus reminds his followers. And Paul reminds the Thessalonians that while they wait, they are not to be weary in doing what is right.
The Old Testament prophet Malachi gives us one of the most hopeful and beautiful passages in all of scripture—”But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.”
Like the sun rising over Jacob as he goes limping off to meet his brother, like the sunrise on Easter morning over an empty tomb, the sun of righteousness will also rise over us, burning away what has been and bringing to life what God intends to be.
Hope! New life! God’s promise of what is ahead, even in the worst of times.
That’s why Charles Wesley quotes Malachi in the magnificent hymn that we sing in church in what most of the world would consider as a weird Episcopalian custom, waiting to sing Christmas hymns until Christmas day, only after going through the season of Advent. We wait in expectation and then we burst with celebration when the day of Jesus’ birth at last arrives.
The third verse of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” goes like this—
“Hail the heav’n born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in his wings (there’s Malachi!)
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth,
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”
So now, even as we endure The Day of the Lord, we can join with today’s psalmist as we sing to the Lord a new song, for we know that God has already won the victory, and that our healing and new births, and the healing and new birth of all creation will someday be complete. “Love, the Lord, is on the way.”
The 1982 Hymnal, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”
Wonder, Love and Praise, “People, look East”
Sermon, Proper 18, Year C Season of Creation I 2022
We are no strangers to counting the cost of things.
In these days of high food prices, I see people going through the grocery store, calculators in hand, counting the cost of items on the shelves before placing those things in their grocery carts.
A person who is buying a car counts the cost of driving the car under consideration over time, considering gas mileage, the inevitable upkeep and repair charges, the cost of new tires, and insurance costs.
Many people count the costs of having children before deciding to have children.
Buying or building or renting a house—what will the cost be?
I don’t know about you, but I get put off by what Jesus has to say in today’s gospel, when he tells the crowds who are traveling with him that if they expect to be his disciples, they must count the cost.
Jesus says that the costs of discipleship include our possessions, our families, and even life itself.
These costs don’t make sense to rational, sensible people who work hard for what they have, love their families, and treasure their life here on this earth and, in addition, as followers of Jesus use all of what they have for good purposes.
But for dreamers, who often seem to lack sense and to be irrational, these demands of Jesus make perfect sense,
because dreamers can see beyond what is to what might be.
Dreamers are willing to pay any cost, no matter how high, to realize the dream.
Jesus himself was a dreamer. He dreamed of bringing God’s kingdom of love to earth. Jesus lived as if his dream were already a reality.
Instead of working as a carpenter, gathering the possessions he would need to live a respectable life as a craftsman, instead of marrying and settling down, having children, being a respected, faithful, dependable man in his community—all of which would have been good, and would have made a positive difference in his immediate world, Jesus left all those dreams behind for a far bigger and better dream, the best dream– the kingdom of God’s love spreading over the earth, restoring universal joy and justice and peace to all of creation.
Ultimately, this dream cost Jesus his physical life on this earth, a price that even Jesus hesitated to pay as we know from his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his death.
Jesus knew that for those who followed him, this dream of God’s reign of love coming to earth must become their dream as well, and that they too, must be willing to pay any cost to live into the dream.
So Jesus taught his disciples how to pray the prayer of dreamers, the Lord’s Prayer.
Only dreamers, or at least people who are willing to try to dream, would pray the very first petition in this prayer, and I’m going to put it in the familiar language that we have up on the wall behind me,
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
The New Zealand Prayer Book’s translation of “thy kingdom come” fleshes out the dream of God’s reign on earth a little more.
“The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings! Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.”
Jesus calls dreamers, or at least people who are willing to dream, to follow him, regardless of the cost.
He tells them to carry the cross, and to follow, knowing the cost.
That cross that Jesus asks the disciples to carry is the cross of obedience, obedience to God, for following God’s commandments also requires that we be dreamers, to be able to see beyond the dreams of immediate gratification to the bigger dream of God’s reign as a dawning reality in the process of being fully realized.
No wonder, then, that Moses, way back in Deuteronomy, asks the Israelites who are waiting to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land to be dreamers as well.
He asks them to choose life instead of death, to dream of a life defined by loving God, obeying God and holding fast to God. Obedience to God would lead to a dream realized –life in a land flowing with milk and honey, a place where the Israelites could at last put down their roots and grow into the people that God hoped that they would become—because you see, God is a dreamer too, to believe in people at all!
Today’s letter to Philemon from the apostle Paul is about a dream that Paul has for a man named Onesimus. Paul has met Onesimus in prison and Paul has a dream for the future of Onesimus, greater than just Onesimus getting out of prison and going back to his former life with Philemon, which is a pretty good dream. Paul dreams that Onesimus will go back to Philemon and that rather than continue on as slave and master, Onesimus and Philemon will be brothers as they would be in the reign of God come to earth.
So Paul writes to ask Philemon to be a dreamer too, to be obedient to who he is as a follower of Jesus, to forgive Onesimus and to take him back not as a slave, but as a brother, and in doing so, to bring into reality for Onesimus the dream of God’s reign of love and justice come to earth, and in doing so, to make that witness of love and justice visible to the world.
How do we disciples of Jesus make God’s love and justice visible and active in the world today? How is God calling us, here and now, to be obedient to God, regardless of the cost?
Here at St Peter’s, we have been dreaming the dreams of God’s reign of love and justice coming to this earth in our work on racial reconciliation. The Sacred Ground scholarship which we established this year is the result of a dream of wanting to address the historic inequities in education for people of color in our nation dating back to slavery and continuing in decades of racist government policies that denied people of color the opportunities that white people had. Our hope is that the people of color who receive the Sacred Ground scholarship in the years ahead will find justice, peace and freedom in having been able to pursue their educational goals a little more easily than they would have been able to otherwise.
And here at St Peter’s, we also dream the dream of God’s reign of love and justice for all of creation, which is why we observe the Season of Creation each year, along with the wider church—our Catholic and Greek Orthodox brothers and sisters, and more and more, people throughout Christendom, taking the time to celebrate and consider what it means to care for creation intentionally as part of our obedient discipleship as followers of Jesus.
As all of creation is suffering more and more greatly from the effects of climate change, this Season of Creation reminds us, as dreamers, to dream again the dream of God’s earth sustaining the web of life and security for all living beings that God planned at the beginning of creation.
Our temptation as rational, sensible people is to count the cost and to decide that we cannot wholeheartedly care for the earth as disciples because the cost is just too high—too inconvenient and too expensive. Maybe the small, feel good stuff, but that’s enough.
For too long, we have settled for the small dreams of our own easy lives at the expense of dreaming God’s dream of ecological justice for the earth. Our obedience gets compromised by putting our own wellbeing and ease ahead of obedience to God, who appointed human beings as the earth’s caretakers.
When we come to our choices regarding how we care for the earth, we have literally reached the point of choosing between life and prosperity or death and adversity as Moses said so long ago. God sets before us life and death, blessings and curses in our relationships with creation.
What we do, or choose not to do, for creation will literally mean life or death for our children and our children’s children. Consider plastic, which is such a ubiquitous part of our lives that we don’t think twice about buying and using it. Seemingly small decisions like choosing plastic containers over biodegradable containers because the plastic containers are cheaper and more convenient or choosing the convenience of a plastic water bottle over a refillable water bottle are ultimately death dealing decisions for the environment.
But wait, I recycle, you may tell yourself—I tell myself that all the time.
But here’s the awful fact that we forget at our own peril—that plastic NEVER decomposes.
Instead, over time plastic breaks into plastic fragments. The plastic fragments eventually become micro fragments, and then the micro fragments become nanofragments, so small that they can barely be seen with the most advanced microscopes. These nanofragments already swim throughout our water supply. Even in the most remote regions on earth, the rain itself contains these nanofragments of plastic. We are drinking in these nanofragments and because they are carried on the wind, breathing them in as well.
In today’s world, choosing material other than plastic for things we use when possible is a choice for life rather than death.
So today, I challenge us all to dream again the dream of God’s earth sustaining the web of life and security for all living beings that God planned at the beginning of creation. Let’s carry the cross of obedience and follow Jesus in the ways that we decide to care for creation, regardless of the cost.
And I challenge us all to dream the dream that Jesus himself dreamed and lived and died for, the greatest dream we could ever dream, the dream that Jesus dreams that we, his disciples will dream—God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.
2. Hymn – “This is my Father’s World” (partial)
3. Gospel- Luke 12:49-56
4. Sermon – The Rev. Tom Hughes
We’re going to start off this time together with a little mind exercise.
Here’s a statement from today’s gospel to think over.
“The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
(Time to think)
In your time of reflection, what came to mind?
(Answers from congregation)
Now, turn to your neighbor and offer this greeting.
“The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
(People greet one another)
How did you feel as you offered that greeting?
How did you feel as you received that greeting?
I’m thinking that this greeting is revolutionary!
In today’s gospel, Jesus sent seventy people out ahead of him in pairs to prepare the way for his coming. And Jesus told them to greet the people with this greeting, “The Kingdom of God has drawn near you.” In the towns that received them, the disciples brought about miracles and the kingdom of God did indeed draw near.
Now what if at the end of each day, I had to report in to Jesus about how my mission of bringing God’s kingdom near had gone that day? Would I have anything to report?
Some days, I’d have to confess a complete fail!
Thank God that even when we do fail (think Peter and all his failures) Jesus will send us out yet again.
So what CAN we do to bring the kingdom of God near to the places and to the people that Jesus sends us to each day?
The first thing is to remember that we carry God’s peace out with us. In fact, God’s peace is the most important thing that Jesus asks us to carry out into the world.
And God’s peace is a treasure.
Today’s first hymn, “Peace before us,” written by David Haas, is based on a Navaho prayer. In Native American spirituality, as well as Celtic spirituality, God’s presence “permeates everything—blending and shading into all of life like the iridescent colours of the rainbow.” (Hymn notes on WLP 791 in Wonder, Love and Praise.)
So to carry God’s peace into the world, we can pray that all around each one of us will be God’s peace, that all around each one of us will be God’s love, that all around each one of us will be that iridescence of God’s light, that all around each one of us will be the presence of Jesus.
Then we pray again that all around us will be peace—for that peace that we long for and that peace that we want to carry out is made up of God’s love, light, and the presence of Jesus himself with us, around us and dwelling in us constantly.
This peace is a gift from God.
Jesus points out in today’s gospel that we must be willing to accept the gift of God’s peace.
God’s peace is a living thing—if we decide to accept God’s peace and to share in it, then God’s peace will rest in us, take root in us, and grow in us.
But if we decline it, and there are so many ways to decline God’s peace, that peace will simply return to God.
God’s peace won’t be wasted, so when we don’t want it, God sends it elsewhere, until at last if finds a resting place in another’s heart, where it can take root and grow.
So let’s be people who accept God’s peace and let that peace grow up in us.
Then, Jesus can send us out into the world bearing that peace to those who need it so desperately.
And when we truly bear that peace out into the world, people will know that the kingdom of God has indeed drawn near.
So –we have God’s peace to carry into the world but we need the energy to deliver it.
One of the reasons we come to church each Sunday is to get rejuvenated for the week ahead, sort of like going to the gas station when our gas tanks are on empty. We get refueled so that we can go out and do God’s work.
Each week we come to God’s table ready to receive the body and blood of Christ, literally taking God’s presence into us. And when we come to the table, we receive comfort.
Isaiah describes God as comforting us as a mother comforts her child, and so we are comforted at God’s table.
Jesus directs the disciples to go out and to graciously receive hospitality from those who welcome them, to receive the comfort that others offer to them. “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide,” a lovely give and take, a back and forth reminiscent of the dance of shared love among the Trinity.
That constant exchange of love produces its own holy energy in which we share when we come together to the Lord’s table with humble and open hearts, ready to receive whatever it is that God intends to provide to each one of us this day.
Our temptation though, is to prefer giving to receiving. After all, Paul told the Ephesian elders in the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus himself said that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
And yet, being willing to receive has its own benefits that help us grow into the disciples who can give God’s gifts to others by carrying God’s peace and healing into the world.
In her blog on leadership, Jesse Lee Stoner lists several reasons why receiving can be a good thing. I think Jesus would agree with her reasons.
Receiving reminds you that you’re not in charge, and helps you to develop a more realistic self-image.
Receiving keeps you humble.
When you receive, you allow others the opportunity to feel the pleasure of giving, and you create a space for others to shine.
Receiving lets us experience gratitude.
Receiving helps us to begin to understand what strength really is.
Receiving makes us more well-rounded and helps our relationships with one another to become richer. (https://leadershipfreak.blog/2011/12/19/its-better-to-give-than-receive-and-other-lies/ )
So now, let’s go back to where we started.
Imagine yourself surrounded by and filled with God’s peace.
Imagine yourself with an open heart, open hands, humbly ready to receive the gifts that God wants you to receive. For the moment, just lay aside what you have to offer.
Now imagine going out now in peace, your hearts and hands open.
And now, turn to your neighbor once more, and greet that person in peace, with your hands open,
saying, “The kingdom of God has drawn near.”
May God’s kingdom draw near to us this day, and may we receive God’s strength to carry God’s love and light and peace out into the world.
Sermon, Trinity Sunday, Year C 2022
Today’s sermon is almost completely taken from the first sermon I preached on Trinity Sunday here at St Peter’s.
The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the ways that we Christians try to understand the nature of God. In today’s reading from Proverbs, the woman called Wisdom gives us some insight into God’s nature.
Ellen Davis, who teaches at Duke, and is one of our most important Old Testament theologians and Hebrew scholars, says that “the picture of Wisdom playing, even giddily, before God, must be allowed to stand as the important theological statement it is.”
Davis offers this translation of Wisdom speaking about herself at the end of today’s reading from Proverbs.
“And I was delights daily, playing before him continually, playing in his inhabited world, and my delights were with human beings.”
Davis says that here the writer of Proverbs emphasizes the element of play in God’s nature.
After all, God didn’t have to create this world, or us, for that matter!
Davis points out that God’s decision to create the world was a matter of absolutely free choice, and in fact, creation, and especially humanity, God created simply for “the sake of God’s own pleasure.”
The freedom to create and delight in what is created belong together, in divine play just as in child’s play. In this “boisterous” image we see Divine Wisdom freely playing with, and delighting in human beings!
The fact that God plays in creation reminds us that God is here with us and is intimately involved with every aspect of our lives, just as God is intimately involved with all of creation.
And the fact that God is intimately involved with us and with all of creation finds expression in the doctrine of the Trinity,
because as Davis goes on to point out, we “Christians confess that God not only created the world but dwelt in it as a human being and God now continues to be present in our midst through the Holy Spirit, one of whose seven gifts is the wisdom of God.”
An understanding of the Trinity that was popular in the first few centuries of the church captures this playful nature of God.
This understanding is known as perichoreisis.
Catherine LaCugna, a theologian who wrote about the Trinity, tells us that perichoresis expresses the idea that the three divine persons mutually exist permanently in one another, draw life from one another, and are what they are by relation to one another.
If we take the Greek prefix peri (around) and link it with the root of the verb choreuein (to dance), we get a lively metaphor that describes the “one nature in three persons” of the Trinity. Literally God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit “dance around.” The choreia or dance of God is “the choreography of the cosmos—it’s the interrelationship of Creator, creation, and life itself, the holy creativity of the All in All.” (from notes on Perichoresis from The Rev. Susan Sowers)
And LaCugna goes on to add that we, yes, all of us, all of humanity, have been made partners in this divine dance, not through our own merit, or because we’re good dancers, but because God has chosen us to join in this cosmic dance of love. We have been made partners in the divine dance, because everything comes from God, and everything returns to God, and this coming and returning happens through Jesus Christ in the Spirit—“the choreography of the divine dance which takes place from all eternity and is manifest at every moment of creation.”
LaCugna points out that this “one mystery of communion includes God and humanity as beloved partners in the dance.”
Dancing is good for us. A recent article in The Washington Post, “Anxious, lonely, or angry? Try Dancing,” quotes Lucia Horan, who teaches a specific kind of dance that helps people to deal with stress. She says that the “beauty of dance is that it addresses these quadrants of healing—the physical, the emotional, the mental and the spiritual.” She goes on to say that dance works for many people because if forces people to focus on the present moment, which can bring relief from worry, grief, and emotional pain.
The early church fathers used the metaphor of dancing as a way of elevating the soul.
St Augustine says this about dancing.
“I praise the dance, because it frees people from the heaviness of matter and binds the isolated to community. I praise the dance, which demands everything: health and a clear spirit and a buoyant soul. Dance is a transformation of space, of time, of people, who are in constant danger of becoming all brain, will, or feeling. Dancing demands a whole person, one who is firmly anchored in the centre of his life…I praise the dance. O Man, learn to dance, or else the angels in heaven will not know what to do with you.”
Brendan O’Malley tells us that in the Christian Church for the first thousand years Christians danced in procession to and from the church. This dance was known as the “Tripudium, which means three steps or transport of joy… The dancers linked arms and danced in row after row, three steps forward, one step back, moving through the streets and into the church and around it during the hymns of the service, and then out through the streets as a recessional.”
Three steps forward, one step back, three steps forward and one step back—this is how we move toward God in this lifetime, stepping backward periodically, but then advancing again.
So the early Christians danced into, and in, and out of their churches, and felt in their bodies the pull of the divine dance of the Trinity, a dance of mutual love, breathing in together the breath of life, and pouring out to one another in mutual giving.
So what does this understanding of the Trinity, this divine dance that we’re a part of, have to do with how we live our lives today?
Brain McLaren, a current theologian, offers this simple thought experiment.
Imagine God as “this loving trinity of perichoresis, a sacred choreography of self-giving, other receiving; honoring, being honored; fully seeing the other, fully revealing the self.”
Now imagine the universe that this God has freely and playfully chosen to create. Imagine dancing to the music of this universe—“a wild and wonderful symphony, full of polyphony and surprise, expansive in themes, each movement inspiring the possibility of more movements as yet unimagined, all woven together with coherent motifs and morphing rhythms, where even dissonance has a place within higher more comprehensive patterns of harmony and wholeness.”
And finally, McLaren asks us to “imagine how people in this universe would manifest trust in this triune God—with undying creative love toward creation, and all of humanity, and even love toward those people who hold differing beliefs.”
This doctrine of the Trinity as perichoresis is a gift to us, because it allows us to imagine God-in-God, dancing in community, God electing us, choosing you and choosing me, to join in God in this divine dance, stepping with joy into God’s dance with the rest of humanity and all of creation.
And because God has no limits, we know that God has elected all of humanity, not just us, to dance divinely, our arms outstretched and linked in love to one another, taking three steps forward, one step back, and three more steps forward, in a transport of joy, as we learn to dance this divine dance with one another and with God right here in God’s good creation.
And if we fully enter into this divine dance, then surely, as Clement of Alexandria said, even now, “we raise our winged souls to the heavens.”
Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, by Ellen Davis. Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.
God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life, by Catherine Mowry LaCugna. HarperSanFrancisco, 1973.
Lord of Creation: A Resource for Creative Celtic Spirituality, by Brendan O’Malley. Morehouse Publishing, 2008.
Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, by Brian D. McLaren. Jericho Books, 2012.
Notes on perichoresis from The Rev. Susan Sowers
Who in here likes donuts? I’d never given serious thought before to how doughnuts ended up having a hole in the middle, but according to Bishop Douglas Fisher from The Diocese of Western Massachusetts, donuts date way back to Ireland and early Christian traditions there.
For the Irish Christians, All Saints’ Day was a day on which prayers for all the saints were offered, and people had a feast to celebrate the day. But many people in Ireland were too poor to put enough food on the table for their feast, and so the night before,on All Hollow’s Eve, they’d go out and knock on the doors of houses and beg for food. As time went on, this practice evolved, and the beggars at the doors would promise to offer prayers for the dead on All Saints ‘Day in exchange for food.
One woman wondered to herself—“Are these people I’m giving food to really remembering to pray for my dead relatives?” So she decided to start giving those who knocked on her door cakes with a hole in the middle. The person eating the cake would get to the hole in the middle of the cake and remember to pray for the deceased.
And so the donut was born.
Who knows whether or not this is really how donuts came to be, but that’s a good story.
Bishop Fisher connects this Halloween story of the donut to what happens in the story about Jesus and Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus was not only a tax collector, but a chief tax collector. Zacchaeus was rich. He had everything he needed and more than enough. He could make as much money as he wanted at the expense of the people from whom he collected taxes. The Roman oppressors, who ruled Palestine, hired people to collect the taxes, and in return, the tax collectors could collect whatever they wanted from the people in addition to the actual tax to pay themselves for doing their job. So not only were the people having to pay taxes, but they were also having to pay whatever the tax collectors demanded for themselves—talk about a corrupt system!
So certainly, Zacchaeus was not a popular person in his community by any stretch of the imagination.
I can just hear the derisive laughter when this rich little man went racing through the streets, shedding his dignity out of his desperation to see who Jesus was, trying to barge his way through the crowd, but I’m sure that no one in the crowd was about to let him get to the front to see anything.
So Zacchaeus resorts to climbing a tree by the roadside (more laughter) hoping that from that vantage point, he’ll be able to see Jesus. The other advantage of being up in the tree is that Zacchaeus is now still, and waiting, rather than rushing and in a frenzy.
So here comes Jesus down the road, surrounded by the crowd. Zacchaeus holds his breath up in that tree. Finally he is going to see this man he’s heard so much about. Maybe he’s even mesmerized.
Here’s what I love about this story. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, and he got more than he bargained for, because when Jesus saw Zacchaeus, Jesus saw more than a rich little man in a tree.
Jesus could see inside Zacchaeus.
And what Jesus saw was that Zacchaeus had a big old hole in his heart, a hole so deep and wide that all the money in the world couldn’t fill it.
And Jesus, being the healer that he was, did some open heart surgery to repair that hole in Zacchaeus’ heart right there on that dusty road when he said,
“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”
What healing grace and mercy this must have been—
Jesus saw Zacchaeus.
Jesus knew his name.
Jesus wanted to come to his house.
The people in the crowd did not like this—that out of all of them around Jesus that day, Jesus would welcome the loser, the despised tax collector, the unclean one, instead of one of them.
Jesus simply says to them that he has come to seek out and save the lost. Jesus has come to do open heart surgery, to heal hearts, to repair and fill the holes that nothing else can fill.
St Augustine described the hole in all our hearts when he wrote this famous line in his Confessions. “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”
That’s the God shaped hole in our hearts, that nothing else can fill. No matter what we try to put in that hole—money, other people, hobbies, food, our addictions– all of these things will eventually let us down—nothing will ever fill that hole in our hearts except God.
And as Jesus makes clear in this story, God is a big believer in second chances. Clearly, Zacchaeus was a sinner—having taken advantage of his fellow citizens for his own gain.
It’s as if Zacchaeus is knocking on Jesus’ door, begging, and when Jesus welcomes him in, Zacchaeus, out of gratitude, says that he will give half of what he has to the poor, and to go back and repay anyone he’s defrauded four times as much as he has taken. And Zacchaeus welcomes Jesus into his house.
And his heart is healed and filled with the only thing that can satisfy his longing—his heart is filled with Jesus.
The first verse of that old gospel hymn, “I love to tell the story” whose words were written by Katherine Hankey, goes like this.
“ I love to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus and His glory Of Jesus and his love, I love to tell the story, because I know it’s true, it satisfies my longings as nothing else would do.”
So here is what I hope you’ll remember about this story of Jesus and Zacchaeus.
Not a one of us is perfect. We all need healing. We all need second chances. Jesus sees us, full of hurt, full of holes, full of longing. We all need open heart surgery.
Zacchaeus reminds us to go in haste, to climb up a tree if we must and to get still and wait for Jesus, because Jesus is coming down the road toward us, his hands full of healing love, ready to give us what we need—his acceptance, and his presence in our hearts.
If we’re looking and waiting, Jesus will see us. Jesus knows our names, and Jesus wants to come home with us today. Jesus wants to fill that hole in our hearts. Jesus wants to give us a second chance.
And in gratitude for all that Jesus gives to us, may we go out and do likewise for one another—to accept one another, to fill one another with God’s love, and offer that second chance for those who have wronged us.
Next time you eat a donut, remember Zacchaeus.
Remember to pray for someone who needs your prayers when you get to the donut hole.
And remember to pray that God will come and fill the hole in your heart.
Sermon, Proper 17, Year C, 2022 Proverbs 25: 6-7, Psalm 112, Luke 14:1, 7-14
“Supper at Emmaus”- Caravaggio
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us about how we are to come to our true place in the reign of God and find ourselves seated at God’s “welcome table.”
In this story, Jesus is eating a meal on the Sabbath with a leader of the Pharisees. The first verse of this passage says that they were watching Jesus closely. I’m assuming that “they” were the group of Pharisees who would have been invited to this meal.
Jesus watches the Pharisees take their places at the meal. Where they sat was quite important, for the seating indicated where people stood within the group, who were the most honored, and who were the least important.
The Pharisees were strict followers of Jewish tradition. The more they followed the tradition, the better they considered themselves to be. They judged one another on their accomplishments in the department of law keeping. And those who were the best were the ones chosen to sit in the place of honor at banquets.
Inevitably the Pharisees had come to believe that their relationships with God were determined by how well they kept the laws, and that they earned God’s favor by keeping God’s commandments.
We fall into the same trap ourselves. We try to live by God’s laws. We try to love God and to care for others. We are proud of our accomplishments. We are proud of being good people. But that proudness we develop can adversely affect our relationship with God, and with other people.
Here’s an example. Years ago, Easter Sunday had at last arrived at St George’s in Fredericksburg. The scent of lilies filled the church, exquisitely arranged flowers delighted our eyes, the choir, accompanied by trumpets, sounded like a heavenly chorus—what a grand way to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection. How proud I was to be there, proud of being a good Christian on this day, along with all the other good Christians who filled every pew.
And then my rejoicing was interrupted.
For who should be the lector that day but a woman in our congregation who was well known for her struggles in life and who wasn’t the best reader either.
I’m ashamed to admit that I thought to myself, “I can’t believe that she is reading on Easter Sunday of all days! She isn’t worthy of that honor. Someone who is better than she should be the one up there in front of all these people. I am worthier than she is! Why didn’t I get chosen to read today?” And then I instantly felt guilty and ashamed for this proud thought.
I have mulled over that incident many times in the years that have passed since then. I had gotten caught up in trying to prove myself to God and to everyone else, trying to prove that I was worthy of a place of honor. I was trying to earn my way to God’s table. I had not taken to heart the wisdom of what Jesus had to say in today’s gospel.
Maybe the Pharisees who listened to Jesus that day took the parable he told literally. Maybe at that very meal they had observed the host asking someone to move so that someone more important could sit near the host. And so Jesus underscored what they had all just seen by reminding them of the verse in Proverbs that says “It is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower at the table. Who would want to be embarrassed in such a public way?
But there’s more to the story Jesus tells than just what happens on the surface of the story.
Jesus is reminding those with ears to hear that our true place in God’s reign is not up to us. No matter how hard we try, we cannot earn the seat of honor at the heavenly banquet, or even a place at all.
Instead, our place at the table in God’s house is entirely up to God’s gracious love and mercy. And we want to put forth our best effort out of gratitude for God’s gracious love and mercy at work in our lives.
Instead of working on earning a place of honor, instead of trying to prove our worthiness, our assignment is simply to trust in the Lord instead of ourselves, to fear the Lord, to take delight in the Lord’s commandments, to be merciful and full of compassion, and to be generous and just, as today’s psalmist explains.
Our assignment is to be humble, just like Jesus was in his life on earth.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul reminded his listeners that Jesus himself, God incarnate, did not cling to equality with God, but humbled himself, becoming a servant, and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
To be a follower of Jesus is to cultivate humility, and to be a servant to God and to those around us.
Remember the parable Jesus told that we heard a few weeks ago, in which the watchful slaves are to be dressed for action and to have their lamps lit, to be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.
And then when the master arrives, he blesses the alert slaves. Just as Jesus did when he washed the feet of his disciples at the last supper, this master will come in, put on his apron, and have the servants sit down to eat, and the master will serve them!
That is shocking, that God would choose to wait on us!
And even more shocking, God invites everyone to the table, not just the worthy few who may, in the eyes of this world, be the deserving ones.
Jesus reminds the Pharisees, and us, of that aspect of God’s unconditional love for all of us in the second half of today’s gospel, when he tells the host, “Next time, don’t invite the ones who can and will repay you. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.” They can’t repay you. But God, the only one who can bless us, will bless you because what you have done for those who cannot repay you have done for God.
To offer this grace and mercy to all that is around us is not about earning God’s favor. Offering grace and mercy to the other is an act of gratitude and thanksgiving to God—God, who loves us enough to welcome us to the table even when we are poor in spirit, even when we are crippled physically or spiritually or emotionally, even when we are too weak to get up and walk through another day, even when we can’t even see that God is right there before us, inviting us to God’s table, even when we struggle to be unselfish and hesitate to invite those who cannot repay us to come on in.
So how are we to come to our true place in God’s reign?
To humbly trust in the Lord instead of in ourselves and our accomplishments.
And to live in gratitude by sharing God’s undeserved hospitality, knowing that God embraces all of us and all things in God’s great circle of love, and invites us all to God’s welcome table.
“Watchful Servants” – Eugène Burnand (1850-1921)
Sermon, Proper 14, Year C 2022
Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
We spend a great deal of our lives waiting. Our lives begin with nine months of waiting to be born, and that’s only the beginning of the waiting we will do throughout our lives.
Today’s scriptures remind us that, as Christians, the most important thing we wait for is for God’s reign to become complete on earth, as it is in heaven.
No wonder that’s the first thing Jesus asks us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth, we are praying for God to make the old destructive death dealing ways of the world into something new and life giving.
Even waiting at a stoplight can take on new meaning if I know that the big thing I am waiting for is for God’s reign of love to come on this earth, and that how I wait, even for a stop light, matters.
Abraham is a faithful waiter. God promises Abraham that Abraham’s old life is going to become a whole new thing—specifically, Abraham will inhabit a new land and have many descendants. God asks Abraham to pick up and go to the land that God will show him. And as the writer of Hebrews tells us, Abraham does what God asks and goes, not knowing where he is going—but he trusts that God will lead him where God wants him to go.
As Oswald Chambers points out, “to wait is not to sit with folded hands, but to learn to do what we are told” by God to do. I like that idea, that waiting is not static, but dynamic. Waiting involves active listening for what God might be calling us to do while we wait for what God is trying to make new in our lives.
So like Abraham, who waited faithfully, we must listen for God’s promise to us, and for the world, (God’s reign coming into reality) and as we wait for that promise, to do what God calls us to do, because God is counting on us to do our parts for God’s coming reign as God makes our lives and the life of the world new.
The next thing we must do is to trust. Because we’re human, we can’t often see how God’s promises are being realized in our lives. So we must trust that even when God seems to be asking us to do something that in our understanding goes against what God has promised, then we should consider doing what God is asking.
Jesus faced this dilemma in the Garden of Gethsemane. How could God’s reign on earth come closer to reality through Jesus dying on the cross? How could death lead to new life? But Jesus trusted God and did end up on the cross. On the other side of death, God resurrected Jesus. And God’s reign on this earth is all about the resurrection of the old into something new.
In her poem, All Things New, Frances Havergal lists some of the gifts God provides when we wait faithfully for God to make all things new, especially when we are dealing with difficulties in our lives.
Light after darkness
Gain after loss
Strength after weakness
Crown after cross
Sweet after bitter
Hope after fears
Home after wandering
Praise after tears
Sight after mystery,
Sun after rain,
Joy after sorrow
Peace after pain
Near after distant
Gleam after gloom
Love after wandering
Life after tomb
Alpha and Omega
Beginning and the end
He is making all things new.
Springs of living water
Will wash away each tear
He is making all things new.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the disciples not to be afraid because God’s good pleasure is to give us the kingdom.
Jesus reminds us that in all the waiting we do in our lives, we will want to do what God has asked us to do, which is to love God with our whole heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves. As we care for our neighbors, God will care for us.
Remembering this puts a whole new spin on what we do with our stuff while we wait for God’s reign here on earth to become fully realized—all the way from that duplicate rolling pin I have in my kitchen, and the extra food I’ve saved up for hard times, to any extra money that God provides.
One of the biggest challenges that Jesus lays out for the disciples in today’s gospel is the need to be constantly ready as they wait for Jesus’ return and God’s kingdom fully realized on this earth.
This challenge is even harder for us than it was for the disciples, for we are the current generation of the countless generations of Christians who have waited faithfully for Jesus to return in glory. Along with the Hebrews, who were discouraged because Jesus had not returned after only two generations, we have grown tired of waiting for Jesus to show up in glory and some of us have even given up and left, placing our hopes in our self-sufficiency, or in the material things of this world, even though we say with our fingers crossed each Sunday that we really do expect Jesus to return in glory. We have simply given up and stopped looking for the signs of God’s homecoming.
So today’s gospel brings us up short!
Jesus reminds his disciples and us that we need to get busy and clear out all that extra stuff that clutters up our minds and our spirits to get ready for God to show up!
In our physical lives, we Christians also have the dilemma of too many material things distracting us and keeping us worrying about the things that ultimately don’t matter.
Last week we heard the story that Jesus told about the rich man who was worried about what to do with his excess crops. He went to great expense to build extra barns to store everything in, only to find that he was going to die that night, and that none of the stuff that seemed so important just hours earlier now really mattered at all.
We’ve all got stuff we need to get rid of, both inner and outer stuff, so that we can travel light and to be ready, no matter when Jesus comes. If we have been getting ready, we won’t get caught by surprise. Until we get rid of the old stuff, we will find that waiting for God to make all things new might be a wait that lasts forever because we haven’t done what we need to do.
Which brings us back to the issue of trusting in God instead of in ourselves and what seems like our material self-sufficiency.
But even after we have done what God has asked us to do, and we find ourselves still waiting, we must trust God that God really is making all things new in God’s own, perfect time.
The thoughts of Christopher Davis, who teaches at Memphis Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee, are helpful here.
Davis says in his commentary on today’s Genesis passage that there comes a place in the process of waiting that our trust gets put on trial. “If you’re going to move from frustration to fulfillment, you must develop an intentional life of waiting…the prize isn’t always finally getting what you wanted, it’s what you learned while you waited.” He goes on to say that our job is to go from putting God to the test to simply trusting God, that it’s not just about what we do, but also about who we grow into.
In the waiting, if we wait faithfully, God really does make us new.
What is God trying to make new in my life, and in yours? What is God trying to teach us in the waiting? What is God trying to make new in our church and in our world?
All of us are waiting for something. So let’s remember that as we wait for whatever it is, that all the waiting, for both the small and large things in our lives, must be informed by our expectant waiting for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
So let’s resolve to listen for God, to wait faithfully and obediently and to trust that even if not in our lifetimes, God’s reign of love will someday come to pass on this earth, as it is in heaven.
And in our intentional, faithful, and trusting waiting, our lives can be a sign to the rest of the waiting world that God’s reign of love really is on the way.
Resources: The poem, “All things new” by Frances Havergal
1. Hymn – Seek Ye First
2. Hymn Love Divine
3. Gospel – Luke 13:10-17
4. Sermon- The Rev. Tom Hughes
Sermon, Proper 12, Year C, 2022
“Ask and it shall be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
These two familiar sentences make up one of the great promises of Jesus to us, that when we ask we will receive, when we seek, we will find, and when we knock, the door will open.
But how many times in your life have you found that these promises don’t hold water, that what you asked for you didn’t receive, that what you sought you didn’t find, and that when you knocked, the door remained not only shut, but locked up tight?
That your prayers weren’t answered.
So did God let you down? Sometimes life feels that way—that God didn’t hear and didn’t answer and that our prayers are in vain.
But as Oswald Chambers says in his classic book of devotions, My Utmost for his Highest, “God answers prayer in the best way, not sometimes, but every time.”
And somewhere deep down inside we believe that God does answer even our seemingly unanswered prayers, because we are here today, and I bet that you, like me, keep praying even when prayer seems hopeless.
So let’s take a few minutes to knock on the door of today’s gospel and ask some questions of these words, and search for what God wants us to find today in these words of Jesus.
The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray and so Jesus gives them the words that we know as the Lord’s prayer.
This line, “Give us each day our daily bread,” is an obvious and sensible request. Every day, we ask God to give us what we need for the day, the necessities of life. In Biblical times, bread was essential to life. Even when there was nothing else, people had bread and eating only bread sustained them.
In the Old Testament, then the Israelites were wandering around in the wilderness and complained that they had nothing to eat, God provided bread for them in the form of manna that they found fresh on the ground each morning, and they gathered what they needed for the day.
And then there’s the story of the prophet Elijah, suffering like everyone else in a famine, and God sends Elijah to the brook called Cherith. Elijah goes there, and God sends the ravens to bring him crumbs of bread each day.
But I think that Jesus is telling us to pray for something more than bread when he asks us to pray for daily bread.
In John’s gospel, Jesus says that he is the bread of life, one of the great I AM sayings.
So we can think of this petition, “God, give us this day our daily bread” as asking for Jesus to be with us today, to be all that we need, to sustain us as bread sustains a hungry person.
When Jesus is with me, sustaining me, the other needs I have get put into the proper perspective. When I receive Jesus every day, I can see that my needs have already been met, often in unexpected and unusual ways, just as the raven fed Elijah.
Give us this day our daily bread. Give us Jesus, the bread of life. Asking for this daily bread, Jesus, every day, keeps Jesus with us each day.
I think the person who wrote the words of the old spiritual that Larry sang got the meaning of “Give us this day our daily bread.” Before asking for anything else, the writer asked for Jesus.
“In the morning when I rise, in the morning when I rise, in the morning when I rise, give me Jesus.”
After Jesus teaches the disciples the Lord’s prayer, he tells the them a story about someone going to a friend at midnight and asking for bread, and that due to the person’s persistence the person finally gets up and gives the person the bread he needs.
Sometimes, no matter how hard we pray, it’s hard to feel that Jesus is there with us, so Jesus reminds us to be persistent in praying for daily bread—to be persistent in praying to know the deeper presence of Jesus with us in our lives.
Prayer is not about magically making things happen if you pray hard enough, or pray the right way, but prayer is about helping us to learn ever more deeply what is already true, that is, as Oswald Chambers says, that we pray “to get perfect understanding of God.”
Prayer isn’t some mystical act to make Jesus appear, but we pray to realize ever more and more deeply what is already true, that Jesus is already with us, our daily bread.
Another way to think of this is to remember the teaching of Jesus in John’s gospel. “Abide in me, as I abide in you.” That abiding in Jesus grows our understanding of God over time. And when we abide in Jesus, we have all that we need—our daily bread.
The more we pray, the more we realize that God is with us, providing for us and sustaining us. So Jesus reminds us to be persistent in prayer.
Now we come to the “ask and it will be given you” part of the gospel.
When we talked about this passage in Bible study this past week, we wondered, what is “it?” “It” could be the specific thing I’m praying for—for instance, healing John Whitfield or Roger Key or any number of the people we pray for each day. But now, I’m thinking that “it” is something more.
What if “it” is Jesus himself?
“Ask, and Jesus will be given you.” We already know that having Jesus in our lives is the foundation for everything else we need in our lives.
Imagine what would happen if we ask for Jesus every time we pray, asking for Jesus first, before any of the other things that we need to ask God for—and those prayers are important as well. Asking for Jesus first, before the rest of what we need, is the idea.
Ask, and Jesus will come to you. And then everything else we think we need will work out because we have come to know that Jesus is with us.
Search, and you will find. What if we searched for Jesus before anything else? Jesus is the deepest and most wonderful mystery that we could ever search, and the more deeply we enter into the mystery of Jesus the more we will find the truth of our own lives, and the gracious presence of God with us.
Remember, the Bible is full of references for searching for God. Not too long ago we had this passage from Psalm 63, written by David, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you.” I love that—David knows that God is with him, but he is still seeking out God. He says that his soul thirsts for God, and that his flesh faints for God. Would that we would all be so diligent in our searching and finding God with us in our lives.
And then “Knock, and the door will be opened to you.”
In John’s gospel, in another of Jesus’ I AM sayings, Jesus says that he himself is the door or the gate through which the sheep enter into his fold, where they will be safe.
In our lifetimes, we knock on so many doors. Some open and some don’t. But when we knock on his door, Jesus will always open and let us in, and then we become content with both the open and shut doors that we’ve knocked on, for the most important door, the door into the fold of God, has opened and we are abiding in Jesus.
At the end of today’s reading, Jesus says “How much more will the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
That’s Jesus’ big, big hint for the disciples to understand the deeper meaning of what Jesus has been getting at in his teaching about prayer. Oswald Chambers says that “the Holy Spirit is the one who makes real in you all that Jesus did for you.” The Holy Spirit is the one who reminds us that we need to ask for Jesus as starving people would ask for bread.
So here’s what I’d like to remember from this sermon, and what I hope you’ll remember too, when we pray.
Give us this day our daily bread—give us Jesus.
When we ask for Jesus, we will receive Jesus.
When we search for Jesus, we will find Jesus.
And when we knock, we will see that Jesus is the open door through which Jesus invites us to enter, so that we can abide in him and he can abide in us.
And then, the first thing we pray for in the Lord’s prayer will be granted in our lives.
The Kingdom of God will become more and more a reality on this earth in our lives together as it is in heaven, for Jesus is with us, living in us, and all of the rest will be well.